The Forgotten Battle

De Slag om de Schelde

In war, that which sounds mundane can lead to compelling drama. Such was the Battle of the Scheldt, the fight to control a river route to the port of Antwerp in order to supply the Allied armies as they marched from Normandy through France into Germany. On paper, this may sound like the stuff of wargames or spreadsheets. In reality, it put human beings in a warzone.

Such is The Forgotten Battle, a 2021 Dutch World War II movie about the Battle of the Scheldt. (Antwerp is in Belgium, but the fighting took place in the southwestern Netherlands.) It is a film tinged with the sense that the war will soon be over, that Germany will be defeated, that the Wehrmacht will retreat, and that the Netherlands will soon be free. If you’ve played Company of Heroes, you may notice a similarity to that game’s Panzer Elite campaign (which, incidentally, was also set in the Netherlands).

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The Aviator

The Aviator

Martin Scorsese is a director of many talents. He is best known for the crime films set in the New York of his youth, but he has tackled other themes: a harrowing medical drama in Bringing Out the Dead, a sports drama in Raging Bull, a psychological thriller in Shutter Island, and, of all things, a children’s adventure in Hugo (review here).

This review discusses another non-stereotypical Scorsese venture: his biopic of inventor Howard Hughes, entitled The Aviator.

The Aviator may not be an easy watch. It borders on three hours of runtime. As such, it is something of a marathon through the life of Hughes, a man who very much deserved a biopic. (See The Aviator: The Life and Legend of Howard Hughes) He was an eccentric and troubled genius, one who was all too prone to self-destruction. He was a movie pioneer and an aviation pioneer, and the film shrinks on neither aspect of him.

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Succession

Succession

There are innumerable titles in the alternate-history genre that deal with a Great Britain occupied by the Nazis in the aftermath of their victory in the Second World War, from Len Deighton’s classic SS-GB to more recent works like C.J. Sansom’s lengthy and somewhat controversial Dominion (review here), not to mention many other titles published by indie authors.

There are so many, indeed, that it has become a distinctly tired trope within the genre, almost as stale as the overarching concept of the Third Reich Victorious scenario in general. Yet it cannot be denied that there is something to the concept of an occupied, fascist Britain that (perversely) appeals to me regardless of how uninspired it has become, and I’m always on the lookout for any alternate-history titles that offer an “alternate” take on the scenario and potentially rejuvenate it in the process.

After a great deal of searching through the Kindle charts and on social media, I was finally able to come up with a potential candidate: Succession, by Michael Drysdale.

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Conspiracy

Conspiracy

We think of the most heinous crimes in human history as having being perpetrated by beings other than humans. We call them animals or beasts or a variety of other dehumanizing names to forget that we have a commonality with murderers.

With no other group has this canard been wheeled out more often than the Nazis. It’s almost unfathomable that something so monstrous as the Holocaust could be planned and carried out by people like us.

Countering such a misguided notion is the goal of Conspiracy, a 2011 coproduction between HBO and the BBC, written by Loring Mandel and directed by Frank Pierson. The cast boasts the likes of Kenneth Branagh, Stanley Tucci and Colin Firth. It dramatizes the Wannsee Conference, a meeting held in an elegant mansion overlooking a lake outside Berlin in January 1942.

The agenda of the meeting was how to annihilate the Jews.

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Axis of Andes

Axis of Andes

We in the alternate-history community have a tendency to hyperfocus on the lands on the Atlantic area. The bulk of alternate history is devoted to Europe and North America from the eighteenth century onward, to the neglect of the imperial peripheries that make up the Global South.

It is with great satisfaction, then, that I bring your attention a duology by D.G. Valdron that concerns events in South America, perhaps our genre’s most neglected continent. Axis of Andes was originally a timeline on alternatehistory.com and now consists of two books: Axis of Andes: World War Two in South America and New World War: Part Two of Axis of Andes.

I wholeheartedly agree with my Sea Lion Press colleague Gary Oswald’s review of the duology: Axis of Andes demonstrates the great accomplishments of which the online alternate-history community is capable. (I’d argue that many Sea Lion Press works demonstrate that too.) It is an impressive work, epic in scope and extremely detailed in every section about a number of different countries.

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Flying Wings

Nothing says future of aviation like a flying wing. A century after they were first imagined, they still look futuristic. Probably because so few of them have flown.

Dieselpunk loves to stock the Nazi air fleet with flying wings designed by the brother Walter and Reimar Horten, but they weren’t the only pioneers in the field. America’s Jack Northrop, founder of the Northrop Corporation, was another flying-wing advocate. His designs didn’t impress the Air Force in the 1940s, but after his death his company would sell the Pentagon a flying wing after all: the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber, the most expensive aircraft ever made.

Northrop is designing the B-2’s successor. Many unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, are flying wings. They may even — finally — come to commercial aviation, almost a century after magazines like Popular Mechanics and Popular Science predicted they would.

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Basil’s War

Basil's War

Even as we pass eighty years since the days of Spitfires and Messerschmitts, Britain’s fight against the Nazis maintains an heroic luster. To many Britons, it was their country’s finest hour as people came together to withstand the German bomber fleets. Even many Americans like myself have had such feelings, for it is a seemingly obvious episode of pure good versus pure evil.

Here we will discuss an American take on the British legend: Stephen Hunter’s Basil’s War.

The protagonist, Basil St Florian, is compared to James Bond in one of the quotes on the cover, a comparison that is apropos. He is introduced in the bedroom of a film star of his day (I’ll let you have the pleasure of finding out who), to be called upon by his employers. Basil has a history as a troublemaker, losing job after job, post after post, until he accepts a position as agent that lets him do irresponsible things and be paid for it. He has a coolness that the more reserved Bond actors brought to the role, and one which takes Basil away from the zaniness of Roger Moore and closer to Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (review here), if with more on-the-ground action.

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Storm Front

Storm Front

Chris Nuttall is a prolific writer of various genres, including alternate history.

In Storm Front, the opening of a series, he writes in that well-worn area of alternate history, the “Nazi Victory”. It’s 1985, and the United States is one of two major world superpowers (this may sound slightly familiar). The other is a German Third Reich which stretches into Africa and the former USSR, now named Germany East. The status quo is about to be upended, and it’s viewed through the eyes of many people, from the top to the bottom of society.

The Harry Turtledove influence here (and not just in the form of a character with that name as an obvious reference) is gigantic. Namely, this contains two big similarities.

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Fatherland

Fatherland

What are the best works of alternate history? Are they the ones with the richest, most detailed and most plausible histories described? Or are they the most engaging stories that happen to take place in a timeline different from our own?

Fatherland, by Robert Harris, by the latter definition, might just be one title that can be counted among the greatest works of alternate history. Through its description of an Axis victory timeline that has since become clichĂ©, its engaging plot and rounded characters, and its presentation of one of the most frightening dystopias since Orwell’s Airstrip One, it has rightly earned its place as a seminal work of alternate-history fiction.

A bestseller in the UK upon its 1992 release, does Fatherland still hold up as one of the greats of published alternate history?

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